Editorial Feature

US DOE Report Predicts Impacts to Energy Sector from Climate Change

A new report released by the US Department of Energy has identified some ways in which America's energy supply sector could be damaged by the changing climate.

Image credit: Photos.com

With 97% of climate scientists now in agreement that anthropogenic climate change is real, and first-hand evidence stacking up rapidly (receding ice caps, rising sea levels and increasing surface temperatures), governments and large organizations are starting to seriously examine how best to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and how we might handle any negative effects of climate change that happen in the future.

The Obama administration has already released a plan to reduce emissions as far as is allowed by current legislation. However, there is a definite limit to how much can be done without further approval from Congress, which doesn not seem likely to happen any time soon.

Against this background, the DOE has reported that existing energy infrastructure could actually be impacted by the expected changes in the climate. Some of the main issues highlighted in the report are listed below.

Both flooding and droughts could cause major disruptions so the energy sector. Image credit: Photos.com

Impacts of climate change on energy production

  • Lack of cooling water available due to drought could cause forced shutdowns at coal, gas or nuclear plants.

  • Risk of flooding due to sea level rise for facilities near the coast - including oil and gas production facilities as well as power plants

  • Reduced contributions to the grid from hydroelectric plants, due to decreases in water levels and shifts in snowmelt cycles. For example, higher temperatures could lead to snow melting earlier, leaving hydro plants dry during the summer when demand for peak energy is greatest.

  • In general, an increased demand for power for air conditioning and other cooling is likely due to increasing temperatures in the summer. These increases need to be considered in any plans for the energy infrastructure - a recent study found that this factor alone could account for a 34GW increase in energy demand (~100 new power plants) by 2050.

Taking action

The main recommendations from this report are to do with hardening existing facilities against potential floods, droughts, and other climatic effects, as well as developing new energy systems which are inherently more climate-resilient.

The report also highlights existing programs which are underway to tackle some of these problems, and advises for better data collection and better information for stakeholders and lawmakers, to ensure that energy policy heads in the right direction to prevent any of these potential catastrophes.

However, a key lesson to take from this report is that no single type of energy production is immune to these effects. Fossil fuel plants and renewables are equally vulnerable - making it even more important that we cut emissions sooner rather than later, or risk putting the entire energy supply chain in danger.

Source: Department of Energy Releases New Report on Energy Sector Vulnerablities, Energy.gov

Will Soutter

Written by

Will Soutter

Will has a B.Sc. in Chemistry from the University of Durham, and a M.Sc. in Green Chemistry from the University of York. Naturally, Will is our resident Chemistry expert but, a love of science and the internet makes Will the all-rounder of the team. In his spare time Will likes to play the drums, cook and brew cider.

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